Parents of gymnasts feel guilt
By DAVID EGGERT and
LANSING — Some parents thought they were misinterpreting the doctor’s techniques. Others assumed their children were lying or mistaken.
But as more details emerged, the mothers and fathers had to face an awful truth: A renowned sports doctor had molested their daughters.
These parents, many fighting back tears, confronted Larry Nassar during his long sentencing hearing, lamenting their deep feelings of guilt and wondering how they could have missed the abuse that sometimes happened when they were in the same room.
“I willingly took my most precious gift in this world to you, and you hurt her, physically, mentally and emotionally. And she was only 8,” Anne Swinehart told Nassar. “I will never get rid of the guilt that I have about this experience.”
Many of the young athletes had come to Nassar seeking help with gymnastics injuries. He was sentenced Wednesday to up to 175 years in prison after admitting sexually assaulting patients under the guise of medical treatment while employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body, which also trains Olympians.
He counted on his charm and reputation to deflect any questions. He was so brazen that he sometimes molested patients in front of their parents, shielding the young girls with his body or a sheet. His clinic on the university campus was decorated with signed photos of Olympic stars, bolstering his credentials to star-struck athletes and their families.
Parents who voiced concern say Nassar dismissed their questions. The mother of one 12-year-old victim said she questioned Nassar about not wearing gloves and he “answered in a way that made me feel stupid for asking.”
“I told myself, ‘He’s an Olympic doctor, be quiet,'” the woman said. “The guilt that I feel, and that my husband feels, that we could not protect our child, is crippling.”
Some victims said they were so young that they did not understand they had been abused until they were adults, so did not tell anyone.
What’s more, coaches told the parents that Nassar was the best and could help their daughters achieve their dreams.
Paul DerOhannesian, a former prosecutor in New York who has written a book on sexual assault trials, said abusers in positions of authority often hold “tremendous power” over both children and parents. Some parents also fear what will happen to their child if they report abuse, and children often have difficulty talking to parents about anything sexual.
“It shouldn’t turn into a situation where we blame parents,” DerOhannesian said.
But even when Nassar’s abuse was reported to coaches and law enforcement authorities, many of them did not believe Nassar had done anything wrong, causing many parents and girls to second-guess themselves.